WWF said 2008 could be the lowest year of summer ice coverage on record, and said that declining thickness among the ice that remains means it may have reached its lowest levels in terms of total volume.

Figures are expected to show that Arctic sea ice coverage is similar to last year’s record low of 1.59m square miles.

“If you take reduced ice thickness into account, there is probably less ice overall in the Arctic this year than in any other year since monitoring began,” said Martin Sommerkom, WWF International Arctic Programme’s senior climate change advisor.

“This is also the first year that the Northwest Passage over the top of America and the Northeast Passage over the top of Russia are both free of ice.”

He added that ice cover is following a trend of becoming younger and thinner each year, so that the area of ice that is at least 5 years old has decreased by 56% between 1985 and 2007.

“We are expecting confirmation of 2008 being either the lowest or the second-lowest year in terms of summer ice coverage,” Dr. Sommerkorn said.

“This means two years in a row of record lows since we started recording Arctic sea ice coverage, and a continuing catastrophic downward trend.”

WWF warned that the changes could affect wildlife such as polar bears and the lives of people living in the Arctic region.

It could also have a knock-on effect on the rest of the world, as the Arctic plays a key role in stabilising the global climate, Dr Sommerkom said.

“Arctic ice is like a mirror, reflecting the sun’s heat back into space,” he said. As that ice goes, Arctic water absorbs more heat, adding to global warming.

“The local warming of the Arctic will also soon release more greenhouse gases from the Arctic that were previously locked in permanently frozen ground.”

Kate Martin

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